Icy Rain Ties Up Traffic, Causes Dangerous Ride to the Polls

A truck overturned on the Franconia Road overpass next to Springfield Mall. Icy road conditions caused accidents during evening rush hour.
A truck overturned on the Franconia Road overpass next to Springfield Mall. Icy road conditions caused accidents during evening rush hour. (John McDonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Eric M. Weiss and Joshua Zumbrun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 12, 2008; 11:07 PM

Accidents and road closures continued into the evening as freezing rain fell across the region. Icy roads contributed to dozens of car wrecks, the closure of the region's largest highway interchange, and led Maryland officials to extend voting hours in the presidential primaries.

Shortly before 9 p.m. major closures in the region included exit ramps on 395 northbound to Pentagon City and 395 northbound at 14th Street, due to icy conditions. In Maryland, Kenilworth Avenue to northbound Baltimore-Washington Parkway also was closed. Route 1 was closed at Woodbridge, Edsall Road and Duke Street.

Area airports remained opened, but reported canceled and delayed flights.

The National Weather Service issued an ice storm warning, which will be in effect until 7 a.m. tomorrow as rain continues to fall and ice continues to accumulate. But the effect on the morning commute should be minimal.

Temperatures were expected to rise above freezing between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., said Brandon Peloquin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "The freezing rain threat should be ended," by tomorrow morning, Peloquin said. "We'll have rain off and on tomorrow. After dark tomorrow it could change over to a brief period of snow," he said.

Crews were working through the night to treat roads. "We just keep treating, keep treating, keep treating," said Karyn LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for the District Department of Transportation.

Officials across the region were surprised by a sheet of freezing rain that blanketed the region just after 3 p.m. Ice accumulations could be as thick as a quarter of an inch on untreated roads.

"Things just went to hell in a hand basket with the roads,'' said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. VDOT was monitoring reports of storms that were to hit well west and north of the Washington area, Morris said. But, in part because of the presidential primary, VDOT sent out 278 trucks to lay salt on major roads and highways anyway. Morris said the speed and amount of the precipitation just caught everyone by surprise. "It started sleeting over and icing very quickly.''

Just after 3 p.m., Virginia state police reported about 10 accidents near the Springfield Interchange, where I-395, I-95 and the Capital Beltway meet. The interchange's 50 ramps and bridges handle about 430,000 vehicles a day. Within a half-hour, state police said, the number of accident reports spiked to 50, although some of them may be reports of the same accident. They advised drivers to slow down, find alternate routes and clear lanes for emergency vehicles.

"Avoid the Mixing Bowl at all costs,'' said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corrine Geller, just before the start of the evening rush hour. "It's completely iced over."

In Prince Georges County, up to 20 vehicles were involved in a crash on the sky ramp carrying Maryland Route 210 over the Capital Beltway, the Associated Press reported.

Prince George's County Fire and Rescue officials said the multi-vehicle crash happened about 3:15 p.m. as the overpass just east of the Wilson Bridge glazed over with ice. Police spokesman Mark Brady said between 15 and 20 cars collided. No one appeared to have life threatening injuries, but two people are trapped in their vehicles, he said.

In Montgomery County, Route 355 was closed in both directions between Chestnut Street and Fulks Corner Avenue in Gaithersburg, authorities said. Police also closed Great Seneca Highway between High Gables Drive and Kentlands Boulevard, following a collision that may have been caused by ice, said Montgomery police officer Melanie Hadley. A portion of Route 29 near the border between Montgomery and the District in Silver Spring was also closed because of an icy bridge. A pedestrian was struck in the 5100 block of River Road in Bethesda, but was not seriously injured, police said.

Polls are normally scheduled to close at 8 p.m. in Virginia, but an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge ruled that voters would have an additional 90 minutes to cast their ballots because of the bad weather. Polls closed as scheduled in the District and Virginia.

In Virginia, Prince William County police said they were dealing with numerous accidents and road closures, which police spokeswoman First Sgt. Kim Chinn blamed on icy ramps and bridges. The same was true in Loudoun County. Icy conditions caused multiple accidents on several roads including Route 28 and the Loudoun County Parkway, said Kraig Troxell, spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Department. "Between like 3 and 4 we worked like 10 accidents, basically in the Sterling area . . . mostly fender benders," he said. "That's unusual because usually we have issues in the west, with some of the more rural roads. "You can't treat the roads before anything falls and then it was unexpected."

In the District, bridges over the Potomac and Anacostia rivers were in good shape at the start of rush hour, but conditions have gotten worse as temperatures drop.

Eleven cars were involved in a fender bender on the 11th Street Bridge, and eight cars collided on the 14th Street Bridge, but neither accident was serious, said D.C. police spokesman Quintin Peterson. No serious accidents have been reported this evening, Peterson said.

Staff writers Rosalind Helderman, Jonathan Mummolo, Josh Zumbrun, Ernesto Lodoño and Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

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